How I became an American

Author Gu ndisch, Karin,
Language English
Chicago: Cricket Books, 2001


In 1902, ten-year-old Johann and his family, Germans who had been living in Austria-Hungary, board a ship to immigrate to Youngstown, Ohio, where they make a new life as Americans.

Subjects :

  • Juvenile fiction
  • Fiction
  • Fiction.
  • Emigration and immigration
  • Immigrants
  • German Americans
  • Youngstown (Ohio)
  • Romania
  • Juvenile fiction.
  • Transylvania (Romania)

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Best Books :

  • Best Children's Books of the Year, 2002 , Bank Street College of Education
  • Children's Catalog, Eighteenth Edition, Supplement, 2003 , H.W. Wilson
  • Children's Catalog, Nineteenth Edition, 2006 , H.W. Wilson
  • Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Ninth Edition, 2005 , H.W. Wilson
  • Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Supplement to the Eighth Edition, 2002 , H.W. Wilson
  • Notable Children's Books, 2002 , ALSC American Library Association
  • Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, 2002 , National Council for the Social Studies NCSS

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Awards, Honors & Prizes :

  • Mildred L. Batchelder Award , Winner , 2002, United States

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Curriculum Tools :

  • Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, 2002

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Reading Measurement Programs:

Cricket Books (Chicago:) 2001.

Accelerated Reader
Interest Level Middle Grade
Book Level 5.9
Accelerated Reader Points 4

Lexile, MetaMetrics, Inc.

Lexile Measure 870
Accelerated Reader Points

Reading Counts-Scholastic
Interest Level 3-5
Reading Level 5
Accelerated Reader Points 8

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Reviews :

Nancy (BookHive (
What would it be like to move from Europe with your family across the ocean to America in 1902? There have been many immigration stories, but why is this family's story such a fascinating account? Is it because the family's journey from Austria-Hungary to Youngstown, Ohio is told through the eyes of a ten-year-old named Johnny? Is it because the book is based on detailed, personal letters from 1902- 1986? Or is it because of the unforgettable struggles? Translated from German to English, this heartwarming and entertaining story may encourage readers to write their own story. Category: Award Books; Historical. Grade Level: Intermediate (4th-6th grade). 2001, Cricket Books. Ages 9 to 12.
(PUBLISHER: Cricket Books (Chicago:), PUBLISHED: c2001.)

Hazel Rochman (Booklist, Nov. 15, 2001 (Vol. 98, No. 6))
Through the voice of young Johann Bonfert, this docunovel tells what it was like for German-speaking immigrants to the U.S. in the early twentieth century: what drove them to leave Europe; the journey across the sea, and then by train to the coal and steel regions in America; the harsh labor, by adults and children, that it took to survive. Gundisch conveys a great deal of fascinating fact, but somehow the story doesn't seem contrived, perhaps because she has drawn on the personal letters of an immigrant family and the writings of people who were there. Johann's reunion in the train station with his father, who looks like a stranger, is hard to forget. In Skofield's excellent translation from the German, we get to know Johann (now John) and his family and friends, including his older sister who sneaks out to parties, and his older brother who moves to California to get away from the factory. A natural selection for class projects on immigration, this will get students researching their own family stories. Category: Books for Middle Readers--Fiction. 2001, Cricket/Marcato, $15.95. Gr. 4-8.
(PUBLISHER: Cricket Books (Chicago:), PUBLISHED: c2001.)

Rebecca Joseph (Children's Literature)
This engaging novel follows ten-year-old Johann and his German family's immigration from Austria-Hungrary to the United States at the turn of the 20th century. When Johann's father moves to America to make a better life, Johann wonders whether his father will forget him and his family, like many other fathers from his community seem to do. Delightfully, Johann's father does send for his family, but their excitement soon fades as the realities of their harsh voyage sink in, including the tragic death of a loved one. The difficulties the family experiences on their trip do not cease once they arrive in America, where they quickly realize all the roads are not paved with gold. However, Johann and his siblings adapt much faster to the "American" ways than do their parents. Nonetheless, through hard work and perseverance, the family begins to find some success. While the writing is somewhat awkward, the story peaks our interest throughout, as it represents the struggles millions of immigrants encountered in the pursuance of their American dreams. 2001, Cricket Books, $15.95. Ages 8 up.
(PUBLISHER: Cricket Books (Chicago:), PUBLISHED: c2001.)

Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2001 (Vol. 69, No. 21))
During the early days of the 20th century, Mama asks Johann to write the story of their journey from Germany to America because she wants all the children to remember everything they lived through. Describing the entire process in vivid detail, Johann tells of his family's life in their village in Austria-Hungary, and their decision to emigrate. Papa leaves first and they wait anxiously for him to send money so they can join him. Others have gone with such promises, never to be heard from again. When they finally take their leave, they must travel many miles by train before reaching the ship. Then comes the long journey in steerage with all its hardships and tragedies. Adjusting to life in Youngstown, Ohio, is not easy for any of them. It is an ever-changing, confusing kaleidoscope of economic opportunities and disappointments, dwelling places, and decisions. As was common in immigrant families, the children find themselves more accepting of this new American culture, while the parents are slower to adapt. Johann's description of his sister Regina's first attempt at dressing American-style to attend a dance and still adhere at least a little to her parents' traditions is both poignant and amusing. G ndisch's technique of telling the story from the point of view of a growing child is successful here. Johann's perceptions change and grow as he matures. It also helps to overcome Skofield's somewhat stiff translation, if the reader accepts that it is written by a child unsure of his English. G ndisch's research and use of primary sources serves her well; the result is believable, interesting, and entertaining. 2001, Cricket, $15.95. Category: Fiction. Ages 9 to 12. © 2001 Kirkus Reviews/VNU eMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.
(PUBLISHER: Cricket Books (Chicago:), PUBLISHED: c2001.)

Russell Souders (The Lorgnette - Heart of Texas Reviews (Vol. 14, No. 4))
This is a book all Americans should read, not just fifth grade through high school, but everyone who is an American or immigrant because of the book's patriotism. The boy in this story, Hanzi, comes from a city in Austria-Hungary. He is telling the story about how he and his family traveled to America to work in a steel factory for a better life. This book is easy to follow because it is straight from a child's heart and perspective. The book surprisingly gives a historical account of what immigrants went through to come to America to create a better environment for themselves. And, that was not an easy task at all. For example, immigrants in the 1800s were in danger of being separated from their families, losing family members, and finding out whom they could and couldn't trust. This book has a great culture ending by leaving the reader with an appreciation for our American culture and diversity. Fiction, Highly Recommended. Grades 5 and up. 2001, Cricket Books, 120p, $15.95. Ages 10 up.
(PUBLISHER: Cricket Books (Chicago:), PUBLISHED: c2001.)

Florence Munat (VOYA, April 2002 (Vol. 25, No. 1))
Basing her 2002 Batchelder Award-winning novel on letters of the more than five million Eastern and Southeastern European immigrants to the United States around 1900, G ndisch describes a typical immigrant experience through the eyes of ten-year-old Johann "Johnny" Bonfert. The Bonfert family shared a two-room cottage in Austria-Hungary. Food was adequate but money scarce. When Johann's father and older brother travel to America to work in the steel mills of Youngstown, Ohio, they eventually save enough money to bring the rest of the family over, including a new baby. During the ocean crossing, Johann and his family endure cold, hunger, and seasickness. After clearing Ellis Island, they take a train to Youngstown. The baby soon dies as a result of unsanitary conditions in the ship's steerage. Despite their sorrow, the family members pull together and work hard--Johnny sells newspapers, his little brother delivers bakery rolls before school, and his older sister works as a maid--and at last they buy a boardinghouse for newly arrived immigrants. There is no high drama here--just the day-to-day activities of adjusting to a new country, language, and culture. Johnny understands his mother's homesickness and her attempt to replicate her old culture by starting a poultry business. He and his siblings adapt more quickly. While his parents anxiously await news from home, Johnny contemplates the working conditions at the mill and worries about his classmates who have dropped out of school to work there. Although the story is set one hundred years ago, new immigrants will spot similarities between the Bonferts' adjustment and their own experience. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P M J (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2001, Cricket Books, 128p, $15.95. Ages 11 to 15.
(PUBLISHER: Cricket Books (Chicago:), PUBLISHED: c2001.)

Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly)
In this rather rambling and awkward chronicle, based on letters written by immigrants between 1902 and 1986 (according to an afterword), a fictional boy describes his family's experiences emigrating from Austria-Hungary to the United States. In 1902, 10-year-old John, his mother and three siblings leave their town of Siebenbürgen to join his father and older brother, who have already emigrated to Youngstown, Ohio. Unfortunately, the narrative is often stilted and the dialogue forced, as when John's father announces his decision to leave his homeland ("I want to immigrate and try my luck in Youngstown, where they need workers. The weaving business is going downhill here, and I don't think it's going to get better. I don't want to wait until we have nothing to gnaw on. I see only one possible way out: immigration"). The boy recounts the family's arduous voyage to America, the sometimes trying adjustment to a new life and language, and the resolute efforts of both parents and children to support themselves financially. Throughout, John underscores the many differences between the two lifestyles and cultures, noting at one point that his mother, who insists on making rather than buying soap, "is just accustomed to the old home ways, and won't give them up." Though it introduces a likable young narrator and offers a clear view of the daily lives of German-speaking immigrants in early 20th-century Ohio, this account will likely prove slow-going for most middle graders. Ages 9-12. (Nov.) "
(PUBLISHER: Cricket Books (Chicago:), PUBLISHED: c2001.)

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Publication Details:

  Publisher ISBN Notes
Chicago: Cricket Books, 2001

Media Type: Language Material
viii 120 p.:
PZ7.G967 Ho 2003
Chicago: Cricket Books, 2001

Media Type: Language Material
viii 120 p. ;
PZ7.G967 ([Fic])

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